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Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement that the Welsh Government will be considering if all primary pupils and some older students can return to schools and colleges from 15 March, if the public health situation continues to improve, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

 “The situation on public health and in transmission of the virus remains incredibly fragile and precarious.

“In making the decision to proceed with the phased wider return to school for some pupils, the Welsh Government has not demonstrated that its decisions will not undermine the health and safety of school staff and pupils or undermine efforts to reduce levels of virus transmission in the community. Schools, teachers and parents need to have compelling evidence that this will not be the case. Unless that evidence is clear, an announcement now for a wider reopening of schools is premature.

“In the face of the increased risks posed by new and more transmissible variants of the virus, a much more enhanced package of safety mitigations and measures is required to make schools Covid safe.  

“This will need to include a system of stronger controls, including the enhanced use of face coverings in schools by senior phase pupils and adults in all settings, the optional use of face coverings by pupils in primary schools and the use of rotas or other measures to limit occupancy levels, provide enhanced physical distancing and prevent overcrowding.

“We also call on Ministers to act on our repeated call for priority access to Covid-19 vaccines for teachers and education staff, phasing the roll-out of vaccinations in settings that are the first to open fully. This would not only help give enhanced protection to school staff, it would also help to reduce the risk of further disruption to pupils’ education in the coming months.

“We all want to see the resumption of in-person education for all children and young people, but a careful and highly cautious approach to the wider reopening of schools in which the highest level of safety mitigations are taken is the best way to secure the longer-term and sustainable continuation of pupils’ education and support the pathway out of this pandemic for the whole of Wales.

“Further safety steps are needed for every school in order to secure the confidence and welfare of pupils, staff, parents and the wider public.”
 
Neil Butler, NASUWT National Official Wales
, said:

“In looking ahead to the return of any further groups of pupils it will be critical that local and national public health teams closely monitor the impacts of the limited return of the pupils going back next week on virus transmission, both inside schools and within the wider community.
 
“Any decisions about keeping schools open for those returning next week and the return of other groups of pupils at a later date should be led by scientific evidence and advice. We cannot risk a further surge in community-level virus transmission by rushing to return too many pupils too quickly.

“The Education Minister has said that wider reopening would happen ‘if conditions continue to improve over the next three weeks’, and she must be true to her word and ensure that extreme caution is exercised in managing decisions on schools.”

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